The Significance of Secretary Hillary Clinton’s Having Submitted Her Emails in Paper Format In Response to F.O.I.A. (Freedom of Information Act) Requests and Government Investigations

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Last month I wrote a long blog post about Secretary Hillary Clinton’s email scandal. I received positive feedback on the composition, but learned that I had written too much for some to digest in one sitting. I have therefore decided to break up what I wrote into several different segments and repost it. This first part deals with why Clinton’s having submitted her emails in paper format is so significant.

A month ago I wrote: “I can think of no good reason why the emails were not turned over in electronic form. Perhaps this is why, to my knowledge, Clinton  has never even attempted to offer an explanation as to why she did not just delete the personal emails on her server and subsequently give over the server with all of her government business-related emails intact.

Impact of Clinton Submitting Her Emails in Paper Format

“A consideration of the impact of Clinton’s submission of her emails in paper may help us understand her decision. If the emails were submitted in electronic format, they could have been keyword searched and so efficiently and effectively examined by both Congressional investigators and those who made F.O.I.A. requests for Clinton’s communications. Emails in paper format could not be keyword searched. The work of both those investigating Clinton’s email scandal and individuals interested in learning about how Clinton did her job as Secretary of State could not be done as well or as fast.

“It is true that the paper versions of Clinton’s emails may have been scanned by investigators and therefore turned into searchable digital copies. However, this effort would be a time consuming process in addition to coming at significant and unnecessary expense to the tax payer. Furthermore, the optical character recognition technology utilized in the process offers an accuracy rate of between about 85 to 90%. Keyword searches done of the emails on Clinton’s server would not be 100% reliable.

“It is obvious why someone in Clinton’s shoes would care not about defying the spirit of the F.O.I.A. and make the work of those who want to mine her emails for information that could hurt her during a presidential run as difficult and as slow going as possible. As far as the investigations of her are concerned, doing all she could to a slow down investigators is a classic strategy deployed by politicians at the center of a scandal. As the investigations dragged on Clinton and her supporters have been able to proclaim that despite the fact that the investigations have gone on seemingly forever, no end has been reached. The implication is meant to be that if Clinton were guilty of anything the investigations would have been wrapped up by this time. Clinton hopes that if enough time passes, the voters will reach “investigation fatigue,” become sick and tired of hearing about the story and no longer care that the final chapter of her email scandal story will reflect very badly upon her.

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True Copy

“In order to understand the full significance of Clinton’s printing her emails and deleting the electronic versions of these communications one must be familiar with the Information Science concept of a “true copy.” A true copy, a term I am not aware has been brought up by anyone in connection with Clinton’s email, is one that is identical to the original in terms of information content. Embedded in the electronic copies of Clinton’s emails was information that could be accessed through digital forensics. Since the printed emails did not include this digital information they were not technically a “true copy” of the electronic originals and Clinton’s deleting the electronic versions made her guilty of the serious federal crime of destroying original federal government records. I must admit, however, that the standard I am applying here is more strict than the one the federal government uses. To put it another way, Clinton has committed a crime but will not be held legally accountable for her action. We have then yet another example of a government official’s tiptoeing on the line between legal and illegal.

We May Never Know

“What may be the most impactful reason why Clinton’s having deleted all of her original emails and passed along what she asserts are paper copies of government business related emails are ones I have not yet touched upon. If the F.B.I. are not able to recover all emails from the server that Clinton had directed be 100% erased we will never know whether she was being truthful when she said that she printed all government records on the server and only deleted personal emails.

Clinton’s Paper Emails May Have been Doctored

“What seems to have been lost on all who commented on Clinton’s email scandal is that it would be a simple matter for someone to doctor the content of an email on Clinton’s server, print out the doctored version and delete the original undoctored version.  It has already been learned that some of the emails on Clinton’s server were either sent to or received from other personal email accounts. Since the investigators will not have access to all of these other personal email accounts, it will not be known for certain that all the paper copies submitted by Clinton are in every way an accurate reflection of the text of the emails that were found on the server at the moment they were first sent or received unless the F.B.I. is successful in recovering all emails deleted from Clinton’s server.

File Attachments

“Yet another troubling aspect of Clinton having deleted her emails and passed paper copies along is the impact of her doing so on file attachments. I am again shocked that no person has mentioned, at least as far as I know, that if she had submitted her emails in electronic form, one would have been able to open and read all file attachments associated with these emails. If the F.B.I.s digital forensic experts do not succeed in a 100% recovery of all deleted emails on Clinton’s server any files attached to her emails may forever remain a mystery. Perhaps this is how Clinton wanted it.”

In my original blog post on Clinton’s email scandal I asserted: “Journalists and commentators have done a poor job….Key details have been left out of the story. The true significance of certain facts has not been made clear. Important inferences that can and should be made have not been.” Check back in with my blog again soon for the rest of my opinions on Clinton’s email scandal.

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